Before describing the objects, it  may be helpful to explain why they have been described as toiletries. Nowadays this term usually refers to perfumes and other fragrant products. Indeed the Cambridge English Dictionary definition is ‘Objects and substances that you use in washing yourself and preventing the body from smelling unpleasant’. However, a broader definition can be found in The Collins English Dictionary, which defines a toiletry as ‘an object or cosmetic used in making up, dressing etc.’ and this definition can be applied to the objects under consideration.

The three objects appear to date from Victorian or early Edwardian times. One is a nail file, one a tool that can be used to clean nails, and a button hook. The items have identical patterns on their handles and, therefore, form a set, but an mixed one. As illustrated later, a boxed set of manicure tools would usually include a cuticle tool and a button hook might be boxed with a shoe horn. This implies that the tools could be purchased separately to meet the purchasers requirements.

Victorian items like these usually had ornate silver handles and steel heads. There is no image of the set here that clearly shows hallmarks on the handles. There is engraving on the button hook and manicure item, which reads ‘English make steel’. The handles may well be silver, but there is no proof.

The nail file was used, as today, to shape the nails. The second manicure item could be used to clean the nails, but might also be used to push the cuticles, although it is not shaped like specialist cuticle tools. The button hook was designed to assist in putting on buttoned boots. Whereas modern boots may have a zip to allow easy access, Victorian boots had buttons on short cords. The button hook was pushed through the button holes to grab the buttons and pull them through the holes until the boot was secured. In addition to use on boot buttons the hook could be used to assist with difficult buttons on dresses, shirts and bodices.


More information:

Date 1900s
Material(s) SteelSilver
Item number MBPO261

Questions to help you remember using this item

  • Have you ever used a button hook? If so for what purpose?
  • What aids, if any, do you use to help you dress?
  • What Victorian or Edwardian objects have you collected?
  • How do you care for your nails?
  • When did the Victorian age end and the Edwardian Age begin?

User Stories

Below is an example of an antique boxed set comprising a silver handled shoe horn and button hook.

The next image shows a Victorian manicure set, which includes a cuticle tool. Note that the word ‘Sterling’ is hidden in the handle design, showing that it was made of Sterling silver.

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